Syria denies holding US journalist Tice captive

Damascus (AFP) – The Syrian government on Wednesday denied holding American nationals captive, including journalist Austin Tice who was abducted a decade ago in Damascus.

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It issued a statement in response to US President Jo Biden saying last week that he knows "with certainty" that Tice "has been held by the Syrian regime", and calling on Damascus to help bring him home.

The foreign ministry denied the accusation in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency.

"The Syrian Arab Republic denies that it has kidnapped or forcibly disappeared any American citizen who entered its territory or resided in areas under its authority," the statement said.

It said it would only accept "official dialogue or communication with the American administration if the talks are public and premised on a respect for Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity".

Tice was a freelance photojournalist working for Agence France-Presse, McClatchy News, The Washington Post, CBS and other news organizations when he disappeared after being detained at a checkpoint near Damascus on August 14, 2012.

Thirty-one years old at the time he went missing, Tice appeared blindfolded in the custody of an unidentified group of armed men in a video a month later, but there has been little news of him since.

Biden's statement came on the tenth anniversary of Tice's disappearance.

"There is no higher priority in my administration than the recovery and return of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad," Biden said.

The previous administration under Donald Trump sent a White House official on a rare mission to Damascus in 2020, aiming to seek Tice's freedom.

But that mission yielded no visible results.

In 2018, US authorities announced a $1 million reward for information that would lead to the journalist's recovery.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Wednesday that the Biden administration's position is unchanged.

"We call on the Syrian Government to ensure that Austin Tice and every US national held hostage in Syria can return home," he said.

"We believe to this very day that Syria still has the power to release Austin Tice. That is why we are calling on the Syrian regime to do just that," he said.